It won't be easy to break that history this evening. Arizona is more than worthy of their '1,' and McKale is one of the best home court advantages in the country. To pull off the upset CU will need to play near-perfect basketball. Stranger things have happened, but the odds are stacked against them...
Tip-off from the McKale Center in Tucson, AZ is set for 7pm this evening. Televised coverage can be found on ESPN2, with the radio call on 850 KOA.
Click below for the preview...
When last we met -
In a matchup more befitting a semi-final or final, CU and Arizona met up in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Pac-12 tournament. 'Zona controlled the action from the opening tip, but a late charge from the Buffs cut the UofA lead from 14 to 2 with just over a minute to go. The comeback wasn't to be, however, and CU had their dreams of a Pac-12 repeat dashed by a 79-69 loss.
|Arizona survived the Vegas collision with Colorado.|
For CU, Andre Roberson lead the way, recording his final double-double in a Colorado uniform. His 15/11 performance was vintage 'Dre, which was very much needed as Josh Scott struggled throughout a two point, three rebound effort. If Colorado is going to pull off the upset this evening, they are going to need significantly more from their star forward than he showed last March.
The Wildcats in '13-'14 -
In a word, perfect. One of only three unbeaten teams remaining, they've defeated all comers - home, road, and otherwise. Most impressive have been their victories away from the Grand Canyon State, including wins over San Diego St, Duke, Michigan, and UCLA. Sure, there have been some scares along the way, but Arizona is more than deserving of their #1 honor.
|Their best wins have all come away from home, a strong testament to their character.|
While their offense is very strong of its own accord, Arizona's true success is built upon their withering defense. 3rd in adjusted points per possession (a little under .88), they boast the nation's lowest defensive eFG (41.1%), while allowing an absurdly-low 18.4% of all attempts at the rim. Without the luxury of a lot of free throw attempts to make up for the brick wall being put up around the rim (33rd nationally in FTA/FGA ratio), opponents are forced away from the basket and into ugly shots (29% from three). The numbers only get better in Tucson. In home games alone they are allowing less than 53 points per game, and only .81 ppp. Just ask the poor Washington State Cougars, trying to score on these guys in McKale is just north of futile.
|Washington State knows, these guys are an elite defensive team.|
Balancing out their offense and defense, they're also one of the best rebounding teams in the country. 9th nationally in offensive rate, 18th in defensive, they crash the boards like no other team that CU has seen this season. Colorado has reformed in the post-Andre Roberson era into a team-rebounding unit, and a good one at that, but it's going to be damn tough to keep the 'Cats off of the glass. The Buffs need to find a way to get something off of misses, because: 1) there are going to be a lot of them, and 2) without them, it severely limits CU's ability to get out in transition. If the Buffs can't attack the rim, can't get good looks from three, and can't get out in transition, any offensive threat from Colorado is essentially nullified.
|CU has to find a way to beat them on the glass.|
Star Players -
Leading the charge for Arizona is the brilliant Nick Johnson. My personal pick for national player of the year (yeah, you heard me), Johnson has a fantastic grasp of how to power this team on both sides of the ball. When they need a big bucket, there he is; when they need a big defensive stop, there he is. He seems to have a preternatural sense of how and when to make the big play, which only strengthens his already fantastic statistical numbers.
|Johnson is the true star in the desert.|
Getting the majority of national headlines is über-freshman swing-forward Aaron Gordon. It what is surely his only season with the Wildcats, the 6-9 frosh from San Jose has proven to be an explosive piece on both ends of the court. On offense, he's a premier dunker and strong post presence who can pop out for the occasional three. On defense, he's miles ahead of most freshmen forwards, and leads all freshmen in defensive win shares. Oh, and he notches the team's best rebounding rates. A well-rounded package for a well-rounded team.
|Gordon is the real deal.|
Up front, the strength of the team relies on the sophomore pair of power forward Brandon Ashley and center Kaleb Tarczewski. The 6-8 Ashley is a solid 'four,' made only the more dangerous because of his strong mid-range game (the opposite of Gordon, 45% shooting on jumpers). Tarczewski is a true 7-footer who is capable of much more than simply clogging the lane. CU was able to limit him to a combined 20/15 over the three games last season, however - continuing to keep a muzzle on him would be a good strategy.
The player who takes Arizona to a different level is point guard TJ McConnell. A junior transfer from Duquesne, McConnell went the unconventional route of actually sitting out the required year at his new school. (Somewhere, Dana Altman just threw up at the very notion of abiding by the transfer rules) Last season, the only thing keeping the Wildcats from being a truly strong team was the absence of a true point guard. Ironically, that missing piece was already in the fold. While converted two-guard Mark Lyons did a more than serviceable job in '12-'13, an engine this primed with athleticism needs an efficient transmission metering out the power, and McConnell adds that dimension. He's chipping in over six assists per contest, and the 'Cats are better off for it.
|McConnell was the missing piece of the puzzle.|
Sean Miller -
I keep forgetting, did he touch the ball?
All kidding aside, outside of Tad Boyle, there's no coach in the conference that I have more respect for than Sean Miller. It's easy to compare the two, as their styles are so similar - motion half-court, emphasis on transition, and hard man-to-man on defense. Maybe that's why this series has been so fascinating the last two years: the teams are evenly matched, and are stylistic copies of each other in so many ways.
|I'm a big fan of Coach Miller.|
(My record on the season: 6-3. Against the spread: 4-5. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +2 pts/gm)
Lines as of Thursday @ 12pm - CU +14
Wallowing in the despair of the 40 hours between the UCLA and USC games last week, I feared that CU would struggle to crack 45 against the UofA and their vaunted defense. After the sunshine of the USC game cleared my mind of such depressive thoughts, I've since re-evaluated. Colorado's offense isn't broken, it's just a re-work in progress. Sure, playing the #1 team in the land at their place isn't the best time to further the educational process, but I no longer fear the epically un-watchable.
I still don't see any chance that Colorado can steal away with a win, but I do expect them to push Arizona for stretches. The Buffs are their ‘kryptonite,’ after all. In the end, however, CU’s struggles in the half-court, the home crowd, and the still-developing rotation take their toll, and Colorado slips in the second half.
UofA 70 - CU 55
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE WILDCATS!